After selecting defensemen Marek Alscher and Ludvig Jansson with his first two picks in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Florida Panthers general manager Bill Zito took his first forward of the event when chose Sandis Vimanis in the fifth round (157th overall).
Vilmanis, 18, played in 40 games with Lulea HF’s U20 team in 2021-22, where he tied for the club lead with 18 goals and ranked third with 32 points (18G/14A).
On the international stage, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Riga native skated in four games with Latvia at the 2022 IIHF U18 World Junior Championship, where he posted three points (1G/2A) and served as an assistant captain. He also appeared in five games with Latvia at the 2022 IIHF U20 D1A World Junior Championship, registering two goals and five points, helping his country to a runner-up finish.
Neutral Zone had Vilmanis graded as a C+ prospect (low probability of playing NHL games, but some NHL potential) and ranked at 217 in its final draft rankings, considerably lower than where he was taken by the Cats, with the following assessments:
Ian Moran: Vilmanis has shown a quick release that uses the whip on the stick to generate torque and an expanded shooting area when one-timing. With a sneaky wide dribble, he also has some surprising wiggle in his 1on1 game. He makes defenders lean, then quickly shifts the puck out wide before showing the body awareness to get his hips in front of the defender.
The general take:
C me: He scored 18 goals in 40 J20 Nationell games. He was an assistant captain for Latvia at the U18 World Championships and recorded three points in four games. He had three points in five games at the U20 WJC D1A. He is very strong along the walls and understands how to extend puck possession in the offensive zone.
C me not: He is a 6’1″ 195-pounder who won 39% of his puck battles in J20 competition. Yes, he understands how to extend offensive zone puck possession, but he is very content to keep the puck along the mid-walls.
Here’s Vilmanis going coast-to-coast and finishing on the backhand: